Daily Archives: 6 August, 2010

1st Hampshires in the Great War – The eye of the Storm

After the Gas attack 0n 8 August 1916, the 1st Hants were relieved on 11 August. The Battalion went back to camp accomodation. Space was cramped, and water supply was a problem. After the first couple of days were spent resting, what the war diary describes an ‘ambitious’ training programme was curtailed by having to provide men for working parties. This pattern continued until 21 August when the Battalion entrained at Brandhoek for Ypres. There Headquarters was based in the Town Ramparts, C and D Companies in the Infantry Barracks, and A and B Companies in the Zillerbeke Bund.

It was only a short stay in the front-line town, for on 22 August the 1st Hants relieved the 42nd Canadian Infantry. The sector occupied was only 1,000 south of Ypres, along the Menin Road itself, and stretched for 800 yards. The position was described as ‘rather unpleasant’, due to being overlooked by all points of the Salient. Most of the trenches were in a poor condition. The Germans were relatively quiet, apart from sending over light guns and trench mortars in the evening. A heavy barrage on the 26th, however, resulted in two officers being buried by earth and being badly shaken. 5 men were killed and 15 wounded. During the bombardment 10 Germans tried to infiltrate A Company’s positions but were beaten off. The next day the Battalion was relieved.

August 1916 had been a hard month for the Hampshires, particularly considering they had been sent to the Ypres sector to recover from their mauling on the first day of the Somme. They had lost 23 men killed (including 7 from Gas), 38 wounded, 2 missing, 46 men were gassed, and 91 were sent to hospital, with only 36 returning in the opposite direction. This was hardly a Battalion rebuilding itself – replacements were going straight in at the deep end.

September 1916 proved to be a much quieter month for the Battalion. On 1st September they went back into the front-line east of Zillebeke. On the 2nd two men were killed in D Company, the Battalion’s only loses for the whole month. On the 5th the 1st Hants were relieved and went back to Montreal Camp, 2 miles south of Vlamertinghe. After spending several days resting and on inspections, on 10 September the Battalion marched to Poperinghe, then by train to Bollezeele and thence to billets at Merckegem. The next day the whole Brigade marched to Capelle, two miles south of Dunkirk, and the next couple of days were spent in the sand dunes at Dunkirk.

On the 15th the Battalion marched back to Merckegem, where Lieutenant-General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston wished them ‘godspeed on their departure for the Somme’. The next day they marched to Esquelbecq station, where they entrained for Amiens. After several days spent in billets in Amiens the 11th Brigade marched to Corbie. On the march the 1st Hants fought a readguard action exercise against the rest of the Brigade. The rest of the month was spent training hard and in practising assaulting enemy positions.

Finally the Battalion had been allowed to rest and gather itself after its hard time on the Somme and a less than quiet spell at Ypres. However, only 27 men and 4 officers arrived as reinforcements during September 1916, so the Hants would still be seriously undermanned on their return to the Somme, where the Battle had been raging ever since their departure.

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UFO’s

For some years now the Ministry of Defence has been looking at reports of Unidentified Flying Objects over Britain. This is strictly from a Defence perspective, in that any unidentified objects flying in UK airspace have to investigated, whether they are flying saucers, wayward airliners or Soviet Fighters.

The files regarding UFO’s are deposited with the National Archives, and are made available to the public periodically. The latest batch of documents released comes from the period 1995 to 2003, and includes all kinds of letters, drawings, parliamentary questions, and even a 100-1 bet on alien life forms.

I can’t say I’ve ever been into the whole Sci-Fi, UFO thing… I find the realm of the real and known more interesting than imaginary spacemen and flying apparitions. But in the interests of research – and knowing that the National Archives get a lot of queries from UFO enthusiasts, I thought I would take a look at the documents that have just been released.

My overall impression is that the Ministry of Defence seems to get inundated with letters from UFO-hunters and, for want of a better term, sci-fi geeks convinced that ‘the truth is out there’. Frequently letters seem to allege that the MOD is part of a cover-up, or is somehow hiding evidence, and much of the Ministry officials time seems to have been spent explaining what exactly their role is. Primarily, this is that as long as their is no threat, then the matter is not investigated further. A common misbelief seems to have been that the section of the MOD tasked with assessing unidentified objects – the Air Staff – was a paranormal investigation unit, like Mulder and Scully. Some people even wrote in enquiring about ghosts and other paranormal phenomena, that hardly fit under the UFO description.

In most cases – in fact, all cases, come to think of it – the only hard evidence is one or two people having seen strange visions in the night sky. However you like at it, this is hardly reliable concrete proof of anything.

Some of the letters received by the Ministry are – even allowing for individuals and their interests – nothing short of laughable, along the lines of ‘I am interested in UFO’s and I want to know more about them, please tell me all about them’. One correspondent wrote to the MOD, and stated ‘I hope you received my last letter. However, I never received a reply’ perhaps the MOD was busy with more important matters, maybe?). Some letter writers kept on replying, refusing to accept the MOD’s answers. Some determined individuals even addressed their letters to Cabinet Ministers, then no doubt wondered why they did not get a reply direct from them. One couple even forwarded some drawings from their 7 year old son, who they claimed had worked out how UFO’s could fly.

One letter was received from the ‘Birmingham UFO Society’, complete with spaceship letterhead. It listed 7 sightings in the Midlands over a period of several months, and asked the MOD for any information. Another writer stated that it was his ‘lifes ambition’ to find the ‘true origin of UFO’s’. One correspondent from South Wales asked what the MOD’s policy was on alien abduction. The answer? ‘human abduction is a matter for the civil police’! The Thameside UFO Study Group entered into a lengthy correspondence with the MOD – which must have had the civil servant concerned pulling his hair out – which ended with the UFO enthusiast writing ‘PLEASE TELL ME!’

Another letter was received by a Gentleman from Gosport, a former RAF serviceman. Walking home one night in 1960 or 1961, he saw a strange, cigar shaped object hovering over ASWE on Portsdown Hill, bathed in lights. Then, nearer home, he saw two Gloster Meteor jets flying low over Gosport. As he rightly mentions, jets do not ordinarily fly low over built-up areas, so was this some kind of emergency? He rang Thorney Island RAF base, and was told that he had NOT seen a UFO, or any jet fighters! The MOD were unable to shed any light on this incident.

One interesting set of statistics in the file I looked at is the total number of UFO reports in any one year. There were very few in the 1950′s or early 60′s, but in the late 60′s and 70′s they peaked at 750 in 1978, before falling again. Is it a coincidence at all that this came when psychadelic drugs and sci-fi appeared on the scene?

It’s hard to escape the fact that there was, and indeed is, no hard evidence of UFO’s being some kind of alien life form. Whilst some people interested in the subject were no doubt genuine, a large proportion seem to have let their interest get carried away and believed that the X-Files was real. What makes me really sad, however, is that they were wasting a large amount of time of a department tasked with running Britain’s Armed Forces – surely civil servants and officers based at the MOD have better things to do than chase up stories about little green men?

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